BELLEAIR — Developers' plans to bulldoze the Belleview Biltmore appeared to move forward Tuesday as town commissioners threw their tentative support behind proposed zoning changes that would allow the historic resort's owners to erect condos and townhomes in its place.
The Biltmore is currently zoned for only hotels or single-family homes. And the town's only existing multi-family zoning district is "RM-15," a designation that caps developments at 15 units per acre and heights at 32 feet — resulting in a uniform, concrete block look that officials agreed tends to look unattractive.
So, town staffers have proposed a new zoning designation, RM-10, which would allow only 10 unit per acre. But developers would be able to gain height bonuses if they incorporate certain elements such as a parking structure underneath buildings, or if they go beyond the minimum setback requirements.
The town would have discretion over whether to offer the incentives individually or in combination, meaning the tallest building on site could be a maximum of 80 feet.
The goal, said town planning consultant David Healey, is to incentivize developers to build fewer units and include more green space while also designing buildings of varied sizes, which would be more visually interesting.
"Hopefully a prospective developer would be enticed to apply for the lesser density in exchange for the greater flexibility in building height," Healey said.
Tuesday's presentation came days after the Biltmore's owners confirmed that hopes of saving the hotel from demolition are dead after an architect who had pledged to renovate the historic landmark missed his Oct. 31 deadline to buy the property.
The hotel, known as the "White Queen of the Gulf," housed presidents, celebrities and generations of Pinellas County residents and guests. It closed in 2009. The owners say it's too far gone to be rehabilitated.
The rezoning proposal won the unanimous support of Belleair's planning and zoning board Monday. Town commissioners also appeared receptive. However, there was some disagreement about the maximum building heights and minimum unit sizes that should be allowed under the new designation.
For example, Commissioner Stephen Fowler, an architect, said he thought 80-foot buildings were too tall. And several commissioners said 1,000-square-foot units would be too small and asked whether they could require that units be at least 1,200 or 1,500 square feet.
Randy Ware of the planning and zoning board said his group had received information that the Biltmore already ranges from roughly 57 to 72 feet tall, so "an 80-foot structure is not that much higher than the existing hotel."
Town Manager Micah Maxwell said the city will continue tweaking the proposal, as well as research the heights and unit sizes of the Biltmore and surrounding high-rise condos in preparation for future talks. Officials also plan to meet with folks living in the surrounding district.
Four of about two dozen audience members spoke up during Tuesday's meeting.
LaVonne Johnson of Belleview Boulevard begged commissioners to continue searching for a way to preserve the hotel: "We've got condos all over the place here, but you'll never have another Biltmore."
However, the majority appeared to agree with Mayor Gary Katica, who says he'd still love to see a miracle donor step up, but that the town has lost $4 million in taxes and utilities in the last five years and it's time to "move on."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or email@example.com